My daughter just signed up for an S.A.T. prep course. For the next six weeks, she will spend every Wednesday night and Saturday morning preparing for the big exam.
You would think that taking the S.A.T. exam is a regular part of teenage life. But for me, this is unfamiliar territory.
When I was in high school, I never took the S.A.T. exam. In fact, I can’t remember having a single conversation with an adult about the possibility of taking the S.A.T. exam. Since no one in my family had ever gone to college, I guess nobody expected me to go either.
As soon as I was 18 and out of high school, I began working full-time.
Then I did something crazy. I went down to the local community college to sign up for some courses. I stood in line for hours, not even knowing if I was in the right line. There was no one there to help me. So I followed the masses.
After taking some “placement exams,” I was told which classes to enroll in.
So I stumbled along, semester after semester, wondering if I was making any headway.
Sometimes my work schedule got in the way of my class schedule, so I would have to withdraw from those classes and hope that my work schedule wouldn’t change mid-semester again the following term.
Going to college was like taking “one-step-forward-then-two-steps-back.”
Then I got married. And his job moved us to a new city almost every year. So I would enroll at a new community college and begin the process all over. If I was lucky, I would get to finish the semester before having to move again.
When I was 24, and the mother of a 2-year-old, I finally transferred to a small, private four-year university. I was beyond excited.
But when I arrived, I didn’t fit in. Everyone was between 18 and 21, and they were living in dorms together while I commuted to campus. They may have thought it was weird that another student was a wife and a mom!
I was lonely and plagued with self-doubt. Would I ever finish?
Then I went through a divorce. Eventually, he moved again—only this time, out of state.
For the next four years, it was just me and my little girl. I worked more than 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job, and I took classes at night, desperately trying to piecemeal together enough units for a diploma.
Finishing a degree—so I could get a better job so I could take care of myself and my daughter—was the only thing keeping me going.
I was 28 years old when I finished my degree.
One university. Five community colleges. Ten years.
Ten years of night classes.
Ten years of setbacks.
Ten years of wondering if I would ever actually make it.
By the time I graduated, Jeff and I had started dating. And the only three people who came to my graduation were Jeff, my 6-year-old daughter, and my mother. (I had invited my dad to come but he said he was too busy.)
So there I stood. In cap and gown.
For ten years, I had dreamed of this moment, thinking it would be one of the happiest moments of my life. But to my own surprise, a sadness that bordered despair clung to me. I felt alone. I wanted to celebrate, but I felt as if no one could truly understand what this diploma meant to me. Only God knew what that dark decade had really been like.
At the graduation ceremony, I went through the motions, telling myself that I was only doing this for my daughter.
Afterwards, Jeff gave me a heavy box, wrapped in paper. Inside was a two-volume dictionary set. He said that he special-ordered the largest dictionary set he could find.
He knew I loved words. He knew I loved making words up and stringing words together.
With both arms, I held the volumes. Jeff didn’t know how dark the previous ten years had been, but somehow, he knew what the next ten years would hold. He knew I would go on to graduate school to study composition—where those dictionaries would come in handy.
He knew I loved to write. So he gave me words.
And he promised to read every one I write.
A dictionary set might sound like the most unromantic gift ever. And for many, that might be true. But Jeff knew me better than I gave him credit for. To this day, that dictionary set is my favorite gift he has ever given me. For me, nothing could say “I love you” better.
He gave me words.
The more I think about it, I realize that God, in His amazing love, has given us a gift of words too. His words, in letters and stories and songs, speak life—to the lonely, to the poor, to the marginalized—to me.
Isn’t this the most beautiful gift that God has given? He gave His Son, the Word made flesh.
God gave us the Word!
I love words.
I love reading words.
I love writing words.
And right now, my daughter is studying a whole bunch of words for her S.A.T. exam. And I can’t even put into words how thrilled I am for her to have the opportunity to go to college.
I may have labored and struggled—for more than a decade—for the privilege to study and learn, but the Word has always been available to me. And around the world, men and women are willing to give up their lives for the privilege to study God’s Word.
They know, as I have come to learn, that the most important words we could ever study are the ones He has given us.
Have you read His gift of words to you today?
Is there someone you could give a gift of encouraging words to?
*Jeff and I will celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary this spring. God is truly amazing.